Bryan Thomas has sacked all the critics who considered him a first-round bust.
The 22nd overall pick in 2002 is enjoying the best year of his career, leading the New York Jets with 61â2 sacks, including 11â2 last Sunday at Green Bay, while playing linebacker and defensive end.
"I was talking to Eric and he told me, 'Just go out there and work hard. Don't think too much. Go out there, play fast and work hard and things will come together,"' Thomas said of coach Eric Mangini. "And now, each and every week, I'm getting a lot more exposure to the defense and it's helped me out."
The Jets and general manager Mike Tannenbaum have been so impressed with Thomas' emergence they rewarded him last week with a contract extension reportedly worth $25 million over five years.
"It's great knowing that I'm wanted here and that Eric and Mike have a lot of confidence in me," Thomas said. "Now I can go out there and earn it and continue to play."
Big things were expected when the Jets drafted him out of UAB, where he was the school and Conference USA career sacks leader. But Thomas was stuck on the depth chart at end behind John Abraham and Shaun Ellis and made little impact when he did play.
Given the chance this season after reshaping his body with an improved conditioning program, Thomas has thrived. He already has a career-high 63 tackles, and has as many sacks this season as in his first four years combined.
"I attribute it to getting my technique better," Thomas said. "Going out there, Mangini stresses a lot about technique, footwork, hand placement and getting on the edge. It's just a lot of technique work and getting involved."
¢ Texas connection: At least one player was not surprised when Vikings rookie cornerback Cedric Griffin beat out veteran Fred Smoot for a starting spot two weeks ago.
Lions receiver Roy Williams is a former teammate of Griffin's at Texas and puts the second-round pick up there with Charger (and former Longhorn) Quentin Jammer and Packer Al Harris as the toughest cornerbacks he's ever faced.
"He's a good guy," Williams said. "We quote-unquote grew up together at the University of Texas and I watched him grow into a good player. The Vikings really got a steal right there."
Griffin has impressed coaches with his physical play. He has quickly gained a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the secondary, much to the delight of defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin.
"He's a football player first and a corner second," Tomlin said. "Those are the type of guys that we're looking for. Regardless of the job descriptions, ultimately this game comes down to being physically and mentally tough. He's both of those things."
The two will meet on the field again Sunday when the Vikings (5-7) visit the Lions (2-10). Can Griffin cover Williams one-on-one?
"There's nobody in America that can do that," Williams said.
¢ Len and Big Ben: HBO's "Inside the NFL" celebrated its 30th anniversary with a retrospective show this week. Executive producer Ross Greenburg recalled a segment that didn't make former host Len Dawson too happy.
In 1980, each program featured an "NFL Flashback," a look at memorable moments in pro football. Because the Chiefs were about to play the Raiders that week in a renewal of their intense rivalry, the chosen subject was a play on which fearsome and often dirty defensive end Ben Davidson speared Dawson, then the Kansas City Chiefs' starting quarterback.
"We thought it would have been a lot of fun to look back at that and then surprise Len and fly in Ben to the studio and have him offstage," Greenburg said. "Len and Nick were commenting on it and then we bring Ben on the set.
"Well, Len hadn't gotten over the spearing and was not very amused by Ben's appearance. That was not one of our better (decisions)."